Black Panther Review [The Road to Infinity War]

Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright
Released: 2018

The final step before the eagerly-anticipated Infinity War (in cinemas at midnight tonight!), Black Panther is a movie that feels very much removed from the MCU as a whole. Sure, we’ve already seen the titular King of Wakanda damn near steal the show in Captain America: Civil War, but this is a tightly structured, self-contained story that manages to stand on its own two feet without having to rely on awkward cameos or flow-derailing Easter Eggs.

In terms of the all-important “is it any good?” question, the fan response pretty much speaks for itself. For a character that 90% of moviegoers are unlikely to have heard of prior to his appearance in Civil War, Black Panther has become an absolute box office juggernaut.  I mean, just look at the numbers;

– A staggering $681 million at the domestic box office.
– The highest domestic grossing MCU movie so far.
– The third best domestic gross for any movie ever (falling just behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avatar)
– $1.3 billion worldwide, good enough for 10th best all-time.

Seriously, folks. Black Panther is for real.

A lot of this can be put down to the cultural significance of this film, which absolutely can’t be understated. Sure, we’ve had black superhero movies before (hi Blade!), but never before have we had such an impressive supporting cast of POC assembled for a single superhero movie.  And rather than butlers, comedy sidekicks, slaves or drug dealers, these POC are scientists, warriors, noblemen and women and – y’know – actual people.

Lupita Nyong’o puts in a stirring performance as Nakia, a former love interest of T’Challa who works as an international spy. Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira blends humour and physicality as Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje, the Wakandan Royal Bodyguards.  Daniel Kaluuya does an understated job as W’Kabi, a conflicted Wakandan whose misguided attempts to do what’s right ends up playing a huge role in the final act of the movie.

Rising above them all however is Letitia Wright, who single-handedly steals the show as Shuri, tech genius and – as it happens – T’Challa’s younger sister. Fierce, funny and formidable, Shuri came away as a lot of people’s new favourite MCU character after this movie, and rightfully so.

For all the flavour and jaw-dropping beauty, this is still a superhero movie at its core. And when it comes to the big screen, more often than not, any hero is only as good as his villain.  Thankfully in this case, Michael B. Jordan more than holds up his end of the bargain as Erik Killmonger, whose troubled upbringing and intriguing birthright give him some thoroughly compelling motivations behind his actions (rather than the usual “destroy the world just because” stuff that has plagued the MCU to this point).

The visual side of the movie is also stunning. Not necessarily the whole “Black Panther” stuff, which is pretty much by-the-numbers video game cut scene CGI, but rather the way Wakanda itself is brought to life with its blend of African heritage and Asgardian sci-fi. The bright, colourful and culturally inspired clothing and designs of the different tribes make for a striking aesthetic, particularly during the scenes where we get to see these designs all brought together at once.

For all its positives however, this one still isn’t without its flaws. The final act is side-tracked by a ridiculously overblown GGI skirmish that feels like it was cribbed from Peter Jackson’s much-maligned Hobbit trilogy.  Some of the humour feels shoehorned in, trying to ape the established MCU “house style”.  Oh, and Martin Freeman’s inclusion and subsequent dogfight heroics seems to only be there to remind us that hey, white people aren’t all bad.

It also doesn’t help that the hero himself is (arguably) the least interesting character in his own movie, especially when he’s in costume, with T’Challa feeling like a far more interesting and captivating protagonist that his fairly ‘meh’ Black Panther alter ego.

At the end of the day however, these are all relatively minor niggles in what is a powerhouse movie in a lot of different ways. And whatever your reasons are for loving it, there’s no denying the fact that Black Panther provides yet another rock-solid building block for the post-Infinity War MCU.

Rating: 4/5

ceej writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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